Locura de terror (1961)

LOCURA DE TERROR (1961)
aka Madness from Terror
Article 2849 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-24-2009
Posting Date: 6-1-2009
Directed by Julian Soler
Featuring German Valdes, Manuel ‘Loco’ Valdes, Sonio Furio
Country: Mexico

Driven insane by his mother-in-law, a man is committed to a sanitarium and is helped by a doctor who is as crazy as he is. However, the sanitarium is also the home to a mad scientist engaged in experiments with dead bodies.

The opening credit sequence, in which ominous music plays while we see a shadowy figure approaching us in the streets, certainly tries to make this look like it’s going to be a scary movie. However, the mood is broken in seconds by dint of seeing who is in the cast; when the first two credits are for German (‘Tin-Tan’) Valdes and his brother, Manuel ‘Loco’ Valdes, you immediately know it’s a comedy. Well, maybe so, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad comedy. Nor does it mean that it doesn’t give us some fun scares along the way. Sure, my viewing is somewhat compromised by the fact that my copy is in unsubtitled Spanish, but this one is pretty easy to figure out, and many of the gags are visual. It starts out as an extended mother-in-law gag, turns into a politically incorrect view of insanity, and finally turns into a mad scientist flick. During the course of this movie, you will see Tin-Tan walk on the walls and the ceiling, Tin-Tan and Loco Valdes sing a Spanish version of ‘Lucille’ to a pretty nurse, the flesh melted off a body to leave a skeleton, the flesh melting back on (thanks to the use of backwards photography) to create a monster, Tin-Tan and ‘Loco’ Valdes doing ‘Othello’ playing Othello and Desdemona respectively, and Tin-Tan doing a full-frontal flashing of his mother-in-law without running the risk of giving the movie anything worse than a PG rating. The mad scientist is so evil he even throws his pet cat into an acid bath and kidnaps paperboys. Somehow, commentary seems pointless in the face of all this.

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La llorona (1960)

LA LLORONA (1960)
aka The Crying Woman
Article 2833 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-8-2009
Posting Date: 5-16-2009
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Maria Elena Marques, Eduardo Fajardo, Luz Maria Aguilar
Country: Mexico

A man and a woman marry and have a child. Unfortunately, this brings on a curse known by the woman’s father; he tells his son-in-law the story of a female ancestor who, when her husband left her for another woman, killed her children. When a nanny shows up to care for the children, she has an uncanny resemblance to the female ancestor…

Once again, I’m doing a little guessing here; my copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Spanish. Still, I think I pretty much got the gist of it, though it required a bit of patience; I was quite a ways into the movie before I was able to pick up the threads of what was going on, and the nanny doesn’t show up until two-thirds of the way through the movie. However, I don’t think this is one of the better Mexican horror movies; in fact, some of the attempts the nanny makes on the life of the child have a comic touch about them that I suspect wasn’t intentional; I don’t feel this was supposed to be a comedy in any way. The story was based on a legend, and was adapted from a play version. My usual source for plot details of some of these Mexican movies, Robert Cotter’s “The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography” didn’t have a plot description, but it has a quote from the pressbook which I suspect would prove to be a translation of the opening narration, and this is rather entertaining in itself.

Lifespan (1976)

LIFESPAN (1976)
Article 2776 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-13-2008
Posting Date: 3-20-2009
Directed by Sandy Whitelaw
Featuring Hiram Keller, Tina Aumont, Klaus Kinski
Country: USA/UK/Netherlands/Belgium

An American scientist comes to Amsterdam to work with another scientist on developing a serum for immortality. When the second scientist commits suicide, the American moves into his apartment and tries to piece together the research he did. He discovers that the dead scientist did come up with a solution, but crucial research information has disappeared. The American tries to trace the other scientist’s research, unaware that he is being led into a trap…

This is an odd but engaging science fiction mystery with noirish overtones. It takes a very low-key approach to the proceedings, and there are moments where the science fiction elements of the movie threaten to move into the territory of the Gizmo Maguffin, but that doesn’t quite happen. Rather, it becomes a meditation on one of the classic horror themes – just how much is one willing to play with human lives for the sake of science? I’d be almost tempted to retitle the movie “How I Became a Mad Scientist”. The movie manages to pull off certain tricks which might hurt other movies; the constant narration actually serves a purpose by giving us an insight into the scientist’s mind, which becomes crucial towards the end of the movie. The sex and nudity also feels relevant rather than merely exploitative, since it’s all part of the web of conspiracy that is being woven around the man. The movie ends with a decision being made and a plan for the future, but it does leave you speculating as to whether the scientist will indeed succeed with his plans, or whether the web is woven too tight around him. This movie seems to only have an average reputation, but I found it quite engaging.

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973)

LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973)
aka Lemora, the Lady Dracula
Article 2774 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-11-2008
Posting Date: 3-18-2009
Directed by Richard Blackburn
Featuring Lesley Gilb, Cheryl Smith, William Whitton
Country: USA

A 13-year old singer in a church receives a letter from her father claiming that he is about to die and wishes her forgiveness. She goes to him, unaware that he has been captured by a vampiress with her own designs on the girl…

Just because the title of the movie describes it as a “child’s tale” doesn’t mean it’s for children. The opening scene features the bloody murder by a gangster of his wife and her lover, and the first leg of the 13-year old’s journey to her father has her encountering any number of potentially abusive child molesters. Yet, the “child’s tale” description is apt; despite the depravity and sickness, the movie has the definite air of a fairy tale. There’s something truly creepy about the girl’s encounter with Lemora, who subtly but effectively seeks to initiate her in the ways of vampirism. Despite the repellent undertones of the movie (which no doubt contributed to it being condemned by the Catholic film board), it’s entrancing and fascinating. It stumbles towards the end, however; once the girl discovers the nature of her captor, we get an extended and rather dull chase sequence, followed by an overdose of the artiness with which the movie has flirted up to that point. The ending is logical enough, but it may leave you feeling rather queasy. At any rate, this seems to be the week for offbeat and bizarre horror movies for me.

The Lost Continent (1968)

THE LOST CONTINENT (1968)
Article 2736 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-2-2008
Posting Date: 2-8-2009
Directed by Michael Carreras and Leslie Norman
Featuring Eric Porter, Hildegard Knef, Suzanna Leigh
Country: UK

When a boat carrying a deadly load of explosives is caught in the fury of a hurricane, the crew and passengers must abandon it. Their lifeboat is trapped in the Sargasso Sea, where they have to deal with monsters and Spanish conquistadors who have been trapped there for ages.

This must have been an ambitious undertaking for Hammer studios, what with the challenge of portraying the world of the Sargasso Sea on what must have been a small budget. Certainly, some of the monsters that appear are less than convincing; a battle between a giant crab and a giant scorpion in particular is laughable in this regard. Still, these sequences could have been forgiven had the story been compelling, but, unfortunately, the story is a mess. The movie should have gotten to the Sargasso Sea a lot earlier in the movie than it does, and then focused on the storyline about the Spanish conquistadors; unfortunately, the first half of the movie gets mired in the various problems of the passengers and crew aboard the ship, most of which aren’t particularly interesting in the first place, and we know most of them will be solved by having a character die at a certain part of the story, or be left forgotten at the end of the movie. When it finally does get to the conquistador storyline, it is rushed and poorly developed, and after a while, the whole movie feels like a series of random events than a story. On the plus side, the acting is decent, the women are attractive, and the movie is quite colorful; the score, however (which seems to emphasize cheesy organ music) is just too odd. The most memorable thing about the movie is its sheer strangeness, especially with the visions of men walking on the Sargasso sea with giant inflated shoes and balloons to buoy them up. All it really needed was a strong story told well.

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971)
Article 2687 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-5-2008
Posting Date: 12-21-2008
Directed by Jimmy Sangster
Featuring Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh
Country: UK

A girls’ school is terrorized by the reincarnation of Carmilla Karnstein the vampiress.

I’m not a big Hammer fan, and whenever I compare them to the Universal horror canon, I feel quite disappointed with them. However, if I keep in mind that the Hammer horrors had budgets that were more in line with the poverty row studios like Monogram, and if I make myself sympathetic to the modest ambition of recycling classic cliches while taking advantage of the growing permissiveness of cinema (back then, you couldn’t even get away with the title of this one), then I’m quite impressed with how well they’re done. This one has some very good scenes (the resurrection of Carmilla is very effective), some silly scenes (I’ll admit that the theme song “Strange Love” isn’t bad, but I just don’t think this is one of those movies that should have a theme song), and some overly-familiar cliches (hey, let’s have the villagers storm the castle!), but it’s entertaining enough for all that. And let’s face it; classic-style horror was starting to become a rare commodity at this time, so sometimes you just have to appreciate the cliches for what they are.

 

Laboratory (1980)

LABORATORY (1980)
Article 2675 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2008
Posting Date: 12-9-2008
Directed by Bob Emenegger and Allan Sandler
Featuring Martin Kove, Ken Washington, Corinne Camacho
Country: USA

Space aliens kidnap humans and isolate them in a remote air force base for experiments.

You know, from a distance I respect this science fiction movie; despite the commonness of the idea of aliens experimenting on humans, I really haven’t seen it handled that much, and, despite the fact that it does show some influence from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (in its use of music as a communication device), it is far from an imitation. Still, when I look up close, it has too many problems I can’t ignore. First of all, the script is rather weak, and the characters are poorly developed and/or stereotypes. Second of all, the score is one of those that largely just drones on and on at the same tone without any regard to the action on the screen; they try to keeep it low and below the surface, but I still noticed. Thirdly, the decision to have the aliens speak in distorted video-game voices backfires because it renders much of their dialogue unintelligible. But worst of all, the movie just utterly fails to build up much in the way of suspense; it takes low-key one step too far into soporific. In short, this could have been a much better movie. Still, I do have to take note of a movie which combines the talents of both Steven Spielberg’s and Cameron Mitchell’s respective sisters.